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Talib, Pats secondary seek consistency, stability

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Talib, Pats secondary seek consistency, stability

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The Patriots' pass defense has been very consistent.

It's one of the worst in the NFL for the third straight year.

But now the secondary is striving to develop a different kind of consistency - a better kind. And, with the shuffling of starters apparently at its conclusion, it appears that the Patriots are headed that way.

``The more you play, the more you mesh,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said Tuesday. ``The more time you get together, it definitely helps.''

Talib is the newest, and possibly final, piece of a puzzle that finally seems to be fitting well after 10 games in which New England has allowed the third most yards passing in the NFL. That's an improvement over last season, when the Patriots gave up the second most. And in 2010, they permitted the third most.

Not that big a deal, safety Steve Gregory said.

It didn't keep the Patriots from reaching the Super Bowl last season, losing 21-17 to the New York Giants on a last-minute touchdown. And it hasn't stopped them this season from leading the AFC East by three games with a 7-3 record heading into Thursday night's visit to the New York Jets.

``Figures lie,'' Gregory said after the Patriots allowed 329 yards passing but routed the Indianapolis Colts 59-24 on Sunday.

``We don't pay attention to too many stats. We just focus in on playing good, hard-nosed football and winning football games. At the end of the day, when that clock strikes zero, if we're on the winning edge, we're happy.''

Against the Colts, they capitalized on two overthrown passes by Andrew Luck and returned both for touchdowns - 87 yards by rookie Alonzo Dennard and 59 yards by Talib.

``You talk about going out and trying to stop an offense and getting turnovers and all those good things,'' Devin McCourty said, ``but when you score points, that really lifts your team up.''

For the first four games, McCourty and Kyle Arrington started at cornerback with Gregory and Patrick Chung at safety. Rookie second-round pick Tavon Wilson started for the injured Gregory the next two games. Then, with Chung sidelined for the seventh game, McCourty moved to safety and Dennard started at cornerback.

Gregory returned for the ninth game when the Patriots had their fourth different starting secondary of the season. Then coach Bill Belichick acquired Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he made his Patriots debut last Sunday after completing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

``As if they need another great player,'' Jets coach Rex Ryan said. ``With Belichick, he does a lot of different things on defense to take advantage of players' talents. It's going to be really interesting to see what he does with Talib because, if his first game is any indication, that's not bad. You know, get an interception for a touchdown. I really thought (Belichick) should have waited until after we played to play this young man, though.''

Talib knows he made mistakes. He gave up two touchdown receptions by T.Y. Hilton, in fact.

On the second, ``I had my eyes in the wrong spot, eyes exactly where they shouldn't be,'' he said, ``on the quarterback. So I watched him throw a touchdown on me.''

But after sitting out more than a month with the suspension and trying to adjust to a new team, he expects to improve as he gets used to Belichick's system.

``Aqib did some good things in the game. There are other things that he'll work on,'' Belichick said. ``I think as our group plays together this week and the next game and so forth, hopefully our overall execution as a (defensive) unit can improve. Obviously, we haven't had a chance to do that with him other than a couple days last week.''

Gregory expects the secondary to get better as Talib gets more experience in it.

``It was good to get out there with him, get the communication things going on with him, understand how he plays in a game atmosphere,'' Gregory said. ``Practice is one thing, but when you get out there in live action you kind of get a feel for each other. So that was a great experience for us.''

The Patriots have allowed 47 completions of more than 20 yards this season, nearly five a game. Seventeen came in their three losses And they lost to Baltimore 31-30 on Justin Tucker's 27-yard field goal on the last play after a 27-yard pass interference call against McCourty gave the Ravens new life.

But two weeks ago, McCourty made the big play in the final minute. He intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick's pass in the end zone with 23 seconds left when receiver T.J. Graham ran to the wrong spot, allowing the Patriots to hang on for a 37-31 win over Buffalo.

``If the offense doesn't score,'' McCourty said, ``and the (opponent) comes back out and they're trying to punch another one in, that's the time when someone really has to step up.''

A week later, Talib did that with his interception for a touchdown. That gave the Patriots the lead for good, 21-14, and they outscored the Colts 38-10 the rest of the way.

It was the start of something big on defense.

In that game and, perhaps, for the rest of the season.

``There's a lot of, hopefully, room for growth and more consistency and better execution on all levels,'' Belichick said. ``When you add a new player in there, hopefully that will get better.''

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Will Suggs still be an impact player when he comes off PUP?

Will Suggs still be an impact player when he comes off PUP?

Clifton Brown and Bo Smolka are taking turns putting 25 key Ravens under the microscope leading up to veterans reporting to training camp. They’ll speculate on a best-case, worst-case scenario for at least one player every day, concluding with quarterback Joe Flacco on July 25.

UNDER THE MICROSCOPE: Terrell Suggs, 33-year-old outside linebacker

Best-case scenario:

Suggs makes a full recovery from Achilles injury and returns as a double-digit sack artist and three-down linebacker.

Why it could happen:

Suggs knows people are wondering how much quality football he has left. It’s dangerous to write off great players too soon. Suggs would love to silence skeptics with a strong season, and if some of the young Ravens pass rushers develop, they won’t have to overwork Suggs. If he stays healthy once he comes off the PUP list, a player with Suggs’ talent and experience can still be a valuable defensive leader.

Worst-case scenario:

The Achilles injury limits what Suggs can do, and he is no longer an impact player.

Why it could happen:

It’s asking a lot of Suggs to remain a cog in the Ravens’ defense, after 106 ½ career sacks, and entering his 14th NFL season. Sooner or later, the NFL road will end for Suggs, just like it ended for his former great defensive teammates like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It will be interesting to hear Suggs’ thoughts on his career when he meets with the media Wednesday. If 2016 is not Suggs’ last ride, the end of the journey is getting closer.

RELATED: FIVE YOUNG PASS RUSHERS TO WATCH

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Five young pass rushers to watch, with Suggs and Dumervil on PUP

Five young pass rushers to watch, with Suggs and Dumervil on PUP

With Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil starting training camp on the PUP list, the Ravens’ young pass rushers have an opportunity to show what they’ve got.

It’s not surprising, or overly alarming, that Suggs (Achilles) and Dumervil (foot) aren’t ready to participate in full-team practices, which begin Thursday. The priority for them is to be ready by Week 1.

But the reality is that Suggs is 33 years old and Dumervil is 32 – closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. Remember when the Ravens loaded up on pass rushers in the draft? Training camp and the preseason will shed light on which young pass rushers are ready to contribute, and which ones are not.

RELATED: RAVENS NAME SIX PLAYERS TO THE PUP LIST

Here are five young Ravens pass rushers to watch closely during training camp and the preseason:

Kamalei Correa, rookie OLB

Correa might see more time at inside linebacker as a rookie, because the Ravens are looking for a starting inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley. However, Correa’s skills as a pass-rushing outside linebacker at Boise St. convinced the Ravens he was worthy of being a second-round pick. If Correa is getting pressure on quarterbacks, the Ravens will find consistent snaps for him.

Matt Judon, rookie DE

He led the nation in sacks last season with 20 at Grand Valley State. As a fifth-round pick, Judon is making a major leap to the NFL and he is raw. But he also has size (6-foot-3, 275 pounds) and athleticism. Judon could earn an immediate role as a situational pass rusher.

Bronson Kaufusi, rookie DE

He’s huge (6-foot-6, 285 pounds). He’s mature, already 25 years old after completing a two-year Mormon mission before attending BYU. And he’s athletic, good enough to spend one season on BYU’s basketball team before focusing on football. The Ravens’ third-round pick, Kaufusi could also earn a role as a situational pass rusher.

Victor Ochi, undrafted OLB

Ochi (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) has a body build like Dumervil – powerful with a low center of gravity. The Ravens have had at least one undrafted rookie make their roster for 12 straight years. Ochi could extend that streak. He was hoping to be the first player from Stony Brook ever drafted. Now he’s hoping to prove he should have been drafted.   

Za’Darius Smith, second-year OLB

Smith finished strong as a rookie. Of his 5 ½ sacks, 3 ½ came over the final three games. According to Smith, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants 10 sacks from Smith this season. If Smith becomes a double-digit sack artist, the Ravens’ pass rush will take a major leap.

MORE RAVENS: WILL SMITH'S BODY BETRAY HIM AGAIN?

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Suggs, Smith among six Ravens named to PUP list

Suggs, Smith among six Ravens named to PUP list

The Ravens announced six players placed on the physically unable to perform list Saturday - linebacker Terrell Suggs, wide receivers Steve Smith Sr. and Breshad Perriman, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, running back Trent Richardson, and cornerback Jumal Rolle.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (knee), cornerback Jimmy Smith (foot), tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), and cornerback Will Davis (knee) were not placed on PUP, indicating they were ready for the team’s first full-team training camp practice Thursday.

Any player on the PUP list can be activated and return to practice at any point prior to the regular season. Once a player is placed on the regular-season PUP list, he must sit out at least the first six weeks of the regular season.

RELATED: WILL SMITH'S BODY BETRAY HIM AGAIN?

Rolle (Achilles injury) is expected to miss the entire season. Here’s the breakdown on the other five PUP list players:

Suggs – He still has not fully recovered from his season-ending Achilles injury suffered in Week 1 last September. Suggs is scheduled to meet with the media Wednesday, where further details about his progress should be revealed.

Smith Sr. – Also recovering from a season-ending Achilles injury suffered in November. Smith said he would not care if he missed the entire preseason. His priority is to be ready by Week 1.

Perriman – He suffered a knee injury during minicamp which did not require season-ending surgery. However, Perriman has still not played a preseason or regular season game since being drafted in the first round in 2015. After two knee injuries in two years, the Ravens have every reason to be cautious with Perriman until they think he is ready to return.

Dumervil – He had offseason foot surgery after playing through pain last season. Dumervil missed mandatory minicamp, but did not sound concerned about being ready for Week 1.

Richardson – His lingering hamstring issue could ruin his bid for an NFL comeback. The Ravens are deep at running back, and Richardson needs to get healthy to have any chance to win a roster spot.

MORE RAVENS: FLACCO HAS LONG ODDS FOR MVP